Our children all served missions when they could only call home twice a year. Speaking to our missionary was always the highlight of Christmas Day. However, in those days we used a program called Skype and it wasn’t terribly reliable. One year we planned to “Skype” our daughter in Brazil and a techy sibling in another state planned to get our missionary online and invite the rest of the family to join in. As it turned out, my husband and I were not able to get on the call, so while the siblings chatted away, we just watched in silence. I mourned the day away, lamenting my missed opportunity to speak with our missionary.
When my husband and I were called to serve as mission leaders a few years later I pondered that Christmas. I wondered if it was a good thing I didn’t speak to our daughter that day. I might have made her homesick, mentioning how much I missed her and talking about when she could return home. As a mission leaders, my husband and I realized how important it was that our missionaries were happy where they were at Christmastime that and not wish they were somewhere else.
Focus on Christ
No longer are phone calls on Christmas Day a rare opportunity, looked forward to for each of the seven months since Mother’s Day. Today missionaries can call their families with more frequency so the Christmas Day phone call may have a different tone. Rather than catching up on each member in a large extended family, or talking about how much they are missed, today we’re more inclined to use phone calls with a missionary to fortify Faith in Christ.
Nothing comforts a missionary more than seeing people come unto Christ. One of the sisters in our mission wrote the following: “I was able to speak with my family [on Christmas Day] and my sister agreed to let me share my testimony with her. My sister isn’t a member of the Church and I committed her to attend church and receive the missionary lessons. My mother promised to pay a faithful tithe and prepare to enter the temple and receive her Patriarchal Blessing. I am very happy for them and very excited to continue the work here. Before December 31 every companionship in the zone will baptize.”
Fortifying faith in Christ includes sharing our testimonies of the Savior. What better time than Christmas Day to share our testimony of Christ with a son or daughter serving a mission? Our testimonies can include the time we first felt the Spirit, a time when we received a confirmation that Book of Mormon was true, a time when the Spirit helped us make a decision, a time when we struggled with a gospel concept and allowed our faith to sustain us. Imagine a missionary’s joy to be reminded that his family is supporting him in not just financially, or with packages received in the mail, but by supporting the work of salvation, by living and sharing the gospel.
Control the Conversation
A missionary may tempt his family to veer from topics of most importance and focus on those that don’t matter. He may ask what his little brother got for Christmas, or what everybody ate for Christmas dinner. Dwelling on what he is missing out on will not help him feel joy during the holiday season. Such questions could easily be diverted with a response, “Nothing much. Tell us about the people you are teaching.”
One of our missionaries shared his secret for making it through the holidays. “Love the people, love the country and love the work,” he said. He said that’s how he avoided ever getting homesick. Parents and family members who want to help their missionaries be happy during the holiday season can heed this missionary and follow his advice: help them love the people, love the country and love the work.
Rather than regale them with our holiday happenings, we can ask about theirs in the mission field. Ask about the people, the country, the work. What are the Christmas traditions where your missionary serves? How do they keep Christ in Christmas? It always amused me that so many of the people in the Dominican Republic keep their Christmas decorations up all year long. You could walk into a home in May and see red and green garland and bright lights strung around the living. When we arrived in July, our missionaries were singing Christmas carols at their district meetings. At first it surprised us, but when we thought about it, it made sense. A missionary wants to focus on Christ all year long, and the songs we traditionally sing at Christmas time turn our thoughts to Christ and remind us to adore him.
Think Outside the Box
Lots of missionaries use their creativity to make the holiday season meaningful. Our missionaries had fun re-enacting the Christmas story, dressing up like wise men, shepherds and sheep. One time they did a role-play where they had to contact The Grinch. The Grinch dressed up with a belted red shirt and stocking cap and he tried to be as grinchy as possible as his companions practiced contacting him. Your missionary may delight in sharing some of the fun and funny things they are doing to celebrate Christmas.
Missionaries enjoy gift-giving even though they don’t have a large gift-buying budget, nor much time to shop. Nevertheless, they can find tremendous joy pondering what might be meaningful to the people they are teaching, or to their fellow missionaries or even their mission leaders. Our missionaries enjoyed taking a black and white composition book and turning it into an inspiring journal. They cut out beautiful pictures from the Liahona and created a collage that became the new cover of the composition book. They secured their artistry with packing tape and often wrote their testimony inside. My husband and I loved receiving this simple gift.
There will be missionaries who receive an abundance of gifts from home at Christmastime and there will be missionaries who receive nothing at all. The missionaries with the most will find unparalleled joy as they share their gifts with those who have less. The things they share do not have to be new. Our missionaries would frequently choose one of their own ties, one they knew their companion admired, write a note on the inside with a permanent pen and give it as a gift to their companion.
One of our sons served in a mission that got very cold in the wintertime. A recent convert bought him a pair of gloves because his hands were red and chapped. Our son immediately gave the gloves to a homeless man he had befriended. I cringed when I heard this and wished he would have kept the gloves, but the act of giving made our son supremely happy.
Christmas is about Christ
We have a four-year-old granddaughter who loves parties. She especially loves birthday parties and when attending a party, she is the first one to don a party hat and help blow up balloons. She wants to open the gifts as soon as she sees them, and she delights at whatever is inside. A few days ago, she was talking about Christmas presents with her mom. Her mom just mentioned in passing that we celebrate Christmas because it is Jesus’ Birthday. “Christmas is Jesus’ Birthday?” she exclaimed, throwing her arms in the air, and hugging them to her chest. “I never knew that!” she marveled. She then announced to everybody she saw, “Did you know that Christmas is Jesus’ Birthday!?” I imagine she had heard this news at some time in her short life, but this year the news touched her heart. Christmas gained more significance than it ever had before. Of all the birthday parties she has ever attended, she is most excited to attend a birthday party for The Savior of the World.
No matter where they are serving, the missionaries and their loved ones at home are all invited to the same birthday party.
Rochelle HaleDecember 23, 2022
I served back in the dark ages when we could not call home or get packages because of sketchy mail service. When our youngest son served we learned that some missionaries never receive gifts from home because their parents are not supportive or because they can’t afford it, so we always sent extra things for our son’s companions. In our mission we have contributed when missionaries won’t be getting packages from home (somehow the mission president knows), we have contributed gently used clothing to the mission office rather than donating to charities, and we always fill a stocking for our ward missionaries who visit or share a meal with us on Christmas Eve. When I write to missionaries I tell them to forget the traditions of home and what they may be missing. They should make memories with the Christmas or two ( and birthdays or other occasions) that they are away. They may learn some new traditions or eat foods that they want to incorporate into their own families someday.0